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Angels general manager Billy Eppler has been a busy man this offseason, with the club acquiring Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, re-signing Justin Upton, trading for Ian Kinsler and signing free agent Zack Cozart.
Eppler joined MLB Network’s MLB Now on Tuesday to discuss the Angels’ plans for Ohtani as he transitions from Nippon Professional Baseball to MLB, as well as what they expect from Albert Pujols in his age-38 season.
Eppler said the club is still deciding how to best utilize Ohtani’s unique skill set. The 23-year-old right-hander posted a 2.52 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings over five NPB seasons, while also posting a 1.004 OPS with 18 home runs in 382 plate appearances for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2016 (injuries shortened his 2017 campaign to 65 games).
“We won’t be aimlessly shooting from the hip on this one,” Eppler said. “But we’re not going to be afraid to challenge the status quo. … What we’ll attempt to do is pretty unique, so it should make for some pretty good theater.”
Another question for the Angels is whether to implement a six-man rotation, given that Ohtani pitched every sixth day in Japan as a two-way player. The club has several options beyond Garrett Richards and Ohtani when it comes to the rotation, including Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, JC Ramirez, and Parker Bridwell.
“There’ll be some times where we’ll be playing 17, 18, maybe 20 games in a row, where we look to possibly incorporate that,” Eppler said. “One of the things we feel comfortable with is the depth there. … We might look to use that to our advantage, and also use that as a workload management program for guys.”
With a revamped lineup, there is the question of what can be expected from Pujols, who turned 38 on Tuesday. Recovery from foot surgeries has cut into the past few offseasons for the 10-time All-Star, but this year he has a full offseason schedule with which to work.
“The last two offseasons, he’s spent more time with a physical therapist than anything else,” Eppler said. “This winter, he’s spent more time with conditioning personnel as well as field staff, and working out on a very regular basis on the field, as we speak, getting ground balls. … Our expectations are another 600 plate appearances and we’ll see where it goes. Our latest feedback and some of the measurements on him have been very positive.”
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.